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March 18, 2009

Best Distortion Pedal?

What is the best distortion pedal? A question that may enter the mind of a guitar player from time to time. I am, like many other guitar players, interested in getting good sounding gear, and since a distortion pedal is one of most frequently used effects pedal, it is a good question to ask what the best distortion pedal might be.

By the way, also have a look at the best overdrive pedal write up.

Best distortion pedal? Well, this is of course a loaded question, since as always, it is a matter of preference. When it comes to guitar equipment, there is really no single one "best" of anything, since we all have different ears, taste, and preferences.

What we can do, is discuss what commonly used pedals are out there, and why we like them.

First of all, I think a good distortion pedal is a great addition to a guitar players arsenal of gear, and it is often the first pedal a guitar player purchases. I like distortion pedals, because good ones can be very versatile and useful. For example, a distortion pedal is essential if you have a cleaner sounding amp, but you want some fat rock tones without having to buy a new amp.

Many modern amps have a lot of sounds of them, and often they pretty much eliminate the need for a distortion pedal. However, even if your amp has a distortion channel, you can still make good use of a distortion pedal. For example, you can set the amp up to be " semi-dirty", and then add a distortion pedal for extra gain and volume. Perfect solution for playing solos, when you may need a bit more bite and volume.

You can also use the distortion pedal this way - set the gain low and turn up the volume knob on the pedal. This way, you get more volume happening, but not so much extra gain. This is how I personally set up my distortion pedals. I like having a bit extra hot signal going in to my tube amp, which tends to bring a better tone out of my amp. I then use the volume knob on my guitar to control how "hot" my tone gets. How much gain to use is again a matter of preference. I aim for a sound where when the volume knob on my guitar is halfway up, the sound is fairly clean, and when I roll the volume knob up almost all the way, I get a nice distorted tone.

Lastly, you can run one distortion pedal into another distortion pedal. Caution is needed here though, because depending on the amount of gain on each pedal, you can get some over-the-top distortion happening... meaning uncontrollable feedback as a result. I do use this technique quite often though, with one pedal gives me a rhythm distortion sound, and adding the 2nd distortion pedal produces a high gain solo tone. I am of course careful with the amount of gain used on both pedals. This is a trick that many players use; Eric Johnson and Michael Landau being examples of this technique.

Ok, so let's list some distortion pedals that are popular and nice sounding. There is no way I can mention all pedals available on the market, so I'm focusing on the ones I have tried, most of which you can purchase in most guitar stores. The first one that I think most players have tried at some time or another is the Boss DS-1. It has the classic distortion tone, similar to Marshall amps, and it's definitely a nice pedal. It's also been around for ages and has stood the test of time.

One of my personal favorites is the ProCo Rat2 is of course also a great choice.

The Cool Cat Distortion by Danelectro is a great distortion pedal and it's attractively priced. It's also true bypass. A gem this is! You'll find some videos of me using here on dolphinstreet.com. This pedal delivers the classic rock tones of yesterday and today, and it is quite versatile too, since it has a treble and bass knob. The Wasabi Distortion pedal by Danelectro is a fat sounding distortion pedal for low dollars.

I personally LOVE the Maxon 9-Series Sonic Distortion and it's my number 1 pick, when it comes to distortion pedals. It is true bypass, and it sounds very good. It works especially well with tube amps. It has a very powerful tone knob, which can make the pedal sound almost like a tubescreamer or a high gain lead solo pedal, depending on how you set it. This pedal is my Number 1 Choice when it comes to distortion pedals. It's always on my pedalboard, because it's the best of its kind I have ever tried. Why is it so good? Because it sounds so organic, and it doesn't have a midrange boost, or a scooped sound. It's just perfect for my style of playing.

Fulltone makes many great pedals, and the Fulldrive, Fulldrive2 and Fulldrive 2 Mosfet are great, well built, delicious sounding pedals. Very much worth a look at the Fulltone line. The OCD is also much liked by many players.

The Vox Joe Satriani Satchurator Distortion is a cool pedal for getting that signature Satriani tone. Joe is closely involved in any product with his name on it.

The Hot Head Distortion by Digitech is quite similar to the DS-1, and I personally like it even better. It has a useful eq options, and is a very versatile pedal. Not true bypass. Digitech has a new line of pedals out called Hardwire, and although I've yet to try one, I have heard the new SC-2 Valve Distortion pedal is very, very good.

Many players like the ProCo Rat - a pedal that has stood the test of tim. John Scofield uses one of these, by the way. Great pedal.

A more aggressive sounding pedal that many players like is the Boss Metal Zone. I like it too; it's very fat sounding and has tones of gain and is great for heavy metal and "meaner" sounds. The Metal Core by Boss is also woth a closer look.

Another good Metal pedal is the XMM Metal Master Heavy Metal Distortion pedal by DigiTech. If you want rage out of your amp, try this one.

Radial Engineering makes very nice pedals too, and the Trimode, Plexitube, Classic and Hot British are worth taking a closer look at. Very nicely made and great tones.

MXR Distortion+ is a classic distortion pedal that many players seem to love. They work well into a overdriven amp, for getting a good lead tone.

Line 6 has many interesting products, and the DM-4 Distortion Modeler gives you 16 models of great pedals (some are not distortion models). This would a good option if you want one pedal with many different sounds, instead several pedals in a row. Their M13 Stompbox Modeler is another great unit by Line 6.

There you have it, a selection of good distortion pedals of different flavours and at different price points. Which is the best? Well, that is up to YOU to decide! Try as many as you can and see what works for you. Remember that amp, guitar and other effects will have huge impact on how the distortion pedal will work for you. Testing, testing and testing is the only way to figure out what is best for you. Trust your ears! In the end, that's all that matters - that you like what you are hearing.

This overview of good distortion pedals is by no mean complete. There are many pedals out there that sound good; many I haven't even heard of. Please add your suggestions to the list. Maybe this can become the best distortion pedal list on the web!

My Personal Choice

Maxon SD-9

Maxon 9-Series Sonic Distortion

By the way, you might want to have a look at the best wah pedal write up as well.

Here are some good ones available at Musician's Friend

Cool Cat Distortion

By Robert Renman - www.dolphinstreet.com

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Posted by Robert Renman on March 18, 2009

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